Feb 3 2009

The Freecycle Alternative

Freecycle is a global, grassroots movement that aims to reduce the gargantuan waste problem facing our planet. One of our readers, a member of the NYC chapter of Freecycle, sent us an e-mail proposing the Freecycle alternative to the problem of hoarding things (stuff generally, junk specifically).


Here’s what this freecycler Brian wrote: “My wife and I make use of [Freecycle] to reduce our unwanted but still usable stuff.  The flip side is that people can get lots of stuff for free.  I see three or four people posting ‘Wanted’ requests almost every day. I’m curious to hear about any stories you’ve come across that have used freecycle or similar tools to acquire stuff.”

The notion of using Freecycle to gain more stuff might be an attractive one for hoarders looking to expand their stuff holdings. But, it seems that many hoarders would benefit from using Freecycle to downsize and declutter their residences. At heart, Freecycle is a means of exchanging items that would not necessarily be viewed as marketable in most mainstream marketplaces. It most definitely keeps stuff out of landfills by finding new owners for anything from cribs and blankets to treadmills and cross trainers.

In assessing what sort of impact the 6.3-million member international Freecycle movment has had on our collective attitudes towards stuff, perhaps it helps to think about where the preserved stuff would otherwise be located. Just like the material preserved, salvaged, and hoarded by compulsive clutterers, the Freecycled stuff is kept out of the dominion of trash. Like hoarders, freecyclers prevent stuff from being eternally committed to the massive containers, fields, and craters chock full of what we typically call “waste.”

Many Freecyclers (and some hoarders too) view themselves as conserving the environment and lessening our global trash menace. Freeganism (often associated with dumpster-diving) is a related movement that seeks to promote anti-consumerist values and the repudiation of socioeconomic disparities. Perhaps Freegans are anti-thetical to hoarders, since they aim to reduce our collective addiction to material possessions and only use what they absolutely need. Emphasis on sheer utility is not seen in hoarders, who often keep goods of minimal use or exchange value. Freecycle emphasizes functionality, while hoarders often fail to appraise an object’s actual capacity to be harnessed beyond the personal and sentimental realms.